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Predicting with the world in mind


By Scott Bradner 


The editors asked us columnists to focus our first column of the new year on our predictions for the future of the corner of IT that we each cover.  For me, that would normally entail a bunch of flip and or sarcastic observations of current corporate technological assumptions and the technical realities that will stress those assumptions in the next year or two.  But I fund it hard to be flip in light of the earthquake and resulting tsunamis in South Asia that ended 2004, but I'll do the best I can.


 My first prediction is that corporations, at least outwardly, will continue to ignore the world around them.  A quick and decidedly non-scientific survey of the web sites of a number of the Fortune 500 corporations show that, for most of them, it's business as usual.  Only a few web sites, including Microsoft, Wall Mart and Dell Computer bothered to acknowledge the South Asian disaster and include links to relief organizations, and only one that I found, Apple Computer, took almost all business off its home page to focus on how people can help.  On the positive side I only found one site (ITT) that exploited the events to highlight their own products (with no link for donations).  For what it's worth, I think a corporation that is not a member of its community is not living up to its responsibilities.


 Speaking of the 'Net, 2004 showed the power of the Internet in political (and humanitarian) fundraising, in political discourse, in corporate and political whistle blowing, in public investigation (say good by to Dan Rather).  This power will only increase this year and in the years to come.  Corporations that attempt, as some did, to stifle Internet-based discussions of their failings rather than to focus on fixing them will suffer the fate of increased focus on the failings.  Note to corporate PR people:  treat the inevitable web site as a resource to hear what your company is doing wrong (so it can be fixed) not as a target for the legal team.


By some accounts 2004 was supposed to be the year of enterprise voice over IP (VoIP) and of storage over IP.  Neither quite took off, and in spite of the fact that in both cases a full range of products are now available I doubt that 2004 will prove to be the year of either.  I'm sure there will be a number of additional big, high-profile conversions to VoIP and that storage over IP (e.g. iSCSI) will represent a recognizable fraction of the market but I expect it will be a few years before either will be the default path.


Based on an AOL report maybe 2005 will be a year when spam reduces as an issue (no thanks to the CAN-SPAM act).  It is possible that 2005 will see the average rate at which Microsoft patches its software will start to exceed the average rate of new exploits but I'm not holding my breath. 


In any case, Internet governance efforts, user-hostile mergers, federal and state regulators, law enforcement demands, open source proliferation, and the forces of nature and man will ensure that 2005 will not be boring.


disclaimer: Harvard is closing in on having had 400 chances to make annual predictions but there has proven to be little science in the effort and the above are mine not the university's anyway.